Assembly Convenes Budget Oversight Hearing on COVID-19 Response

On Monday, the Assembly Budget Subcommittee No. 6 on Budget Process, Oversight, and Program Evaluation convened an oversight hearing regarding the Newsom Administration’s ongoing COVID-19 response activities. Monday’s hearing had approximately 11 Assembly Members in attendance with members physically distanced and panelists participating via videoconferencing. Budget Subcommittee No. 6 Chair Assembly Member Phil Ting opened the hearing with a brief overview of the Legislature’s actions in providing the Newsom Administration with up to $1 billion in emergency funds to respond to the COVID-19 emergency, as well as the Legislature’s role in exercising oversight over the expenditure of the funds and the deployment of resources and supplies.  

The oversight hearing featured with a presentation by California Health and Human Services (CHHS) Agency Deputy Secretary Marko Mijic on California’s COVID-19 infection, hospitalization, and mortality modeling and projections. Mijic detailed California’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, effectiveness of the state’s non-pharmaceutical interventions, and health care system surge capacity. An overview of total incurred and anticipated COVID-19 disaster and public health response state expenditures and federal reimbursements was provided by representatives from the Department of Finance (DOF), the Office of Emergency Services (OES), and the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO). OES additionally provided a handout to the subcommittee detailing distribution of personal protective equipment by county and a resource request process flowchart.

Questions from subcommittee members spanned a wide array of topics, including statewide testing capacities, supply procurement and distribution to health facilities and public health departments, social safety net programs, COVID-19 expenditure tracking, homelessness services, hospital and telehealth services, health and behavioral health, economic impacts, and unemployment benefits, among others.

Notably, Assembly Member Joaquin Arambula posed a number of questions related to the Administration’s actions and impacts of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, including the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE), skilled nursing facilities, access to health services, food bank shortages, and economic assistance to undocumented residents. Assembly Member Richard Bloom also briefly discussed the importance of contact tracing and investigations in adequately responding to the pandemic and safely reopening and resuming normal operations in the state, as well as dedicated funding and resources for pandemic preparedness and response.

Assembly Member Jim Wood, who is not a member of the subcommittee but was invited to attend the hearing, commended the Newsom Administration for establishing the California Health Corps to increase health care surge capacity staffing. Wood also expressed a series of concerns related to federal funding availability to small jurisdictions, as well as the Newsom Administration’s communication and information sharing with the Legislature, framing the matter as a “missed opportunity” to better coordinate state and local resources and response activities.

Subcommittee Chair Phil Ting, in his questioning and closing remarks, reiterated the urgent need for transparency from the Newsom Administration. In requesting additional information on incurred and anticipated COVID-19-related expenditures, Ting noted, “The emergency powers that were granted were with an understanding that this would be for a certain amount of discreet time. It wasn’t the sense that there was a blank check or we would just be notified after expenditures were already committed to.” Ting further discussed the Legislature’s work in building the state’s budgetary reserves and expressed the desire on behalf of the Legislature to have a greater “say with how this reserve money is being spent.”

Assembly Budget Subcommittee No. 6 will convene another hearing next Monday, April 27 to assess economic stimulus efforts and response actions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. A recording of Monday’s hearing is available here. The agenda and background materials are available here.